“What are we out here for?” Finian called out to Gluma, unleashing the yawn he had stifled earlier. She just smiled at him and he knew he would have to wait. He watched as she set off, following the bends of the stream, and trailed her deeper into the wood. She strode to a huge oak tree that sat some distance away, curling its roots around an exposed boulder at the edge of the stream bank. She climbed to the top of the boulder and, leaning against the trunk, stretched up to a knot on the tree that was nearly out of her reach. Arching her feet, standing on her toes, she plucked the knot right out of the tree, exposing a small naturally formed cubbyhole, and withdrew something Finian could not see. She replaced the knot and scrambled back down to the ground, brushing off whatever it was she held.
She approached him and gestured behind her to the base of the boulder, where the water of the stream curved abruptly and had hollowed a little calm place free of the current. Cattails bobbed in the soggy mud between the riverbank and water as the water spun in languid circles.
“That,” she said, nodding to the place, “is where I found ye, when ye were a baby.”
Finian stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes frozen on the spot she had indicated, and a strange thrill of excitement went through him.
“Yeh were in a basket of reeds an’ mud when I found yeh,” Gluma was saying, and Finian forced himself to pay attention to her every word. “The basket had caught in th’ cattails and got waterlogged. Sinkin’, it were, and yeh would’ve sunk with it if I’d not pulled yeh out. Never found out who yer parents were, o’ course; weren’t a note or nothing. They never did turn up looking for yeh or nothing, so papa decided te keep yeh. Stood up te ma an’ everythin’.”
She stopped abruptly and he looked at her, worried that she would stop telling him the story. She had never spoken of it before, and the most Finian could do was pick up bits and pieces of what had happened from conversation and from the dark innuendo that Mog threw his way whenever something went wrong in the village, as though he was a bad omen or harbinger of some long forgotten doom.
“I thought it were lost, was why I never gave it to yeh before now,” Gluma said, her voice quiet, staring at something in her hands. Finian pulled his eyes away from the place he had been found as a child and looked at her. “Forgot I’d hid it up there.”
She lifted her hands and opened them, presenting to Finian what looked like a rumpled bit of cloth that could have once been forest green. It lay dark and still against her palms. He stared at it, unsure of what to think.
“It were yer swaddling clothes,” Gluma explained. “What yeh were wrapped in, on yer little raft. And look here.”
She drew the patch of cloth taut and indicated a long, frayed line along its lengthiest edge. “It were cut from somebody’s cloak, see? Find the cloak what matches, an’ I wager ye’d find yer parents.”
Stepping towards him, she pressed the cloak corner into his hands.
“Keep it. It be yers anyway. Th’ only real thing yeh have left of yer parents, I surpose.”
Finian could barely feel the cloth against his fingers, his thoughts a mass of swirling confusion. He had long ago given up on ever knowing anything about his parents, though he had often imagined it in his dreams. They would arrive in the village square one day to carry him off home again, telling him that it had all been a mistake, that he had always been wanted. He had buried all of it as deep as he could inside. It had been easy to ignore, as he had not known them nor the circumstances of his abandonment, and there had not even been a hint of who they were or where they had gone. That hope, long since pushed aside, seemed to flare to life inside him once more, burning white-hot against his ribcage.